Dave Bautista On Playing The Role He’s Been Looking For His Whole Career, And Why ‘Guardians 3’ Will Be The Best One

Let’s start with this: Dave Bautista gives a powerhouse performance in M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin. It’s the kind of role where, if you know anything about Bautista’s career, it’s something he’s been seeking out for quite some time. Last time we spoke, Bautista had mentioned how his role as Sapper really let him prove what he can do. In Knock at the Cabin, he takes that even further.

Based on Paul G. Tremblay’s book, Bautista plays Leonard, an imposing but empathetic man who shows up at a cabin with three other menacing strangers, all with weapons, telling the family who is staying there that one of the family members has to kill one of the others or the world will end. Obviously, the family thinks these four are nuts, but as sinister events start to play out, it’s less and less clear what’s going on.

As Bautista explains, he had to both be both menacing and the nicest person you will ever meet. Finally, before offering the part, Shyamalan told Bautista that he actually is a lot like Leonard in real life. This is the first time I’ve met Bautista in person (our past interviews were on the phone) and there’s a lot of truth to this. He’s an imposing figure, but there’s also this strange sense of peace and calm he exudes. And make no doubt about it, he’s very proud of his performance in this movie. And he should be. Bautista is one of the few actors who will admit they have a plan of what they want to accomplish, and this one is a big piece of his puzzle.

But, first, Bautista collects lunchboxes (like, really) and I couldn’t help but tell him about one I found recently…

I know you collect lunchboxes, I want to show you a picture, I found an original Star Wars lunchbox. I found it in a store in Asbury Park. I realize it’s not super rare, but it was only $10…

Oh, no way! Really?

That’s not bad. Right?

Did you get it?

I did.

Oh, that’s in your house? It’s a good one. So, there are two versions of this lunchbox. I’d be curious to see which one you have. The thing is that on the two versions, the sides are different. One of the versions has a side that’s just all stars and whatnot. And then there’s one that has a version of the sides are like C-3PO-

This is the one with C-3PO and R2-D2.

It’s so nerdy that I know that there are two.

Speaking of nerdy, in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special you got into a fight with a GoBot.

[Laughs] James Gunn, I think he had to get permission. I guess because he is so loved, he gets permission to use these characters like Howard the Duck in the first Guardians. But yeah, I love that he comes up with things that are just so outside of the box, so absurd like that. But yeah, GoBot killed Drax’s cousin.

Last time we spoke you mentioned how much the Blade Runner role meant to you, to get to show what you can do. Is that why you wanted to do Knock at the Cabin? It’s a whole movie of you getting to do that…

Oh, for sure.

You’re imposing, but you also feel for the guy.

This is the type of role that I’ve sought out for years since I started.

Yeah, I kept thinking that, that this is what you’ve been looking for.

Yeah, you know the weirdest thing about this is? When I first talked to Night about it – because I knew it was just a pure acting role – I was kind of big because I was on Guardians 3 and I typically get a little more muscular for Drax. And I said, “This is the problem though, I’m on Guardians and I’m going to come to this and I’m going to be very big and very menacing.” He said, “Oh no, actually, that’s perfect. Actually, is there any way you could get bigger?”

Oh wow.

And I said, “Well, unlike most people, that’s the easy part for me.” I get very muscular, very fast. All I need to do is put myself under some weights and eat a lot. But I loved that that was the contradiction that he wanted to play with is me being physically just so menacing, but also just being the kindest person you ever met.

Honestly, how do you do that? That seems like something difficult to pull off.

Well, funny thing is that after numerous conversations before he offered me the role and before I read the script, he said, “Getting to know you and you basically are Leonard.” And I took that as a compliment because I am. I am a gentle person. I don’t want to intimidate people. It’s never my intention to intimidate people. And I think with Leonard as well, Leonard being so large, he understands that he can come off as menacing and he doesn’t want to be that person, so he’s always going out of his way to make people feel comfortable. And make people feel he’s okay, he’s likable, he’s nice, he’s not going to hurt them. Which really came in handy because when I’m dealing with such a small child and the contradiction between us, but then him just lowering himself and speaking softly and trying to become her friend, it is who I am. Even when I meet children for the first time, a lot of times I will kneel down and talk to children on their level because I don’t want them to look at me being afraid of me.

Working with M. Night, is that something specifically you’ve always wanted to do?

So the thing is, I learned early in my career, it was some advice that I got from Zoe Saldana. In the first Guardians, she said, “Be very careful of the directors you work with. Be very picky and choosy.”

I was actually going to follow up with that point next. It does seem like you do do that.

I always took that to heart and I thought there was so much value in that lesson and so I have sought after it. I wasn’t initially offered this role or even given the script or even told that there was a film. I was just told through my agents that M. Night Shyamalan wants to have a talk with you.

Okay, so they approached you?

Yeah. So my agent said, “Night wants to talk to you.” And I was like, “About what?” And they said, “Well, we’re not sure. We think he’s working on something, but he is very secretive and he’ll never say.” So I said, “I’m a massive fan and I want to talk to him.” So we had a conversation and we never talked about a film other than films that he already did, because I was a fan and I let him know.

Which ones did you talk about?

I focus on The Sixth Sense.

That movie’s actually underrated for how popular it is because it’s just so well made.

It’s so well made. And the twist at the end is one of the best twists I never saw coming. And I thought that it’s… He’s a genius.

I’ll never forget seeing that in a theater and just the entire crowd just going, “What?”

That’s what I mean.

And it was a slow wave of people getting it.

And it was. And it’s just the buildup to it, then going back and seeing all the references that gave you clues, but you just never dialed it in. And I thought it was just so genius so I never forgot how that film impacted me. But anyway, we had a few of these conversations where we never discussed a movie until, finally, he said at the end of our last conversation, “Well, I have this film I’m working on and I’d love to send you the script.” And I said, “Great, send it.” And so he sent me the script and I had a very short time to read it. And I read it and got back to him immediately was like, “What do I have to do? I love this. This is the role I’ve been looking for. What do I have to do to get this?” And he said, “No, I want you for this role.”

Last time you mentioned how you had to convince directors to let you be in their movies. Now they’re coming to you. When did this change?

I don’t know. This may be the first time it’s changed because even I had a similar experience with Glass Onion. I talked to Rian a few times before we talked about the movie. I had really no idea about the film, if they were offering me a film, what was going on? I knew they were considering me for a role. Didn’t really know what it was. But even then, I think it was getting to know me. And I think Night wanted to get to know me and know me as a person and see whether he felt that I was confident or capable of handling this massive lead role.

Sometimes when actors are asked about strategy, a lot of the time they say they don’t have one and it works out the way it does. But I feel you actually do. You mentioned working with certain directors and being choosy. It seems obvious that you’re very focused on what you want to accomplish.

They’re all pieces to a puzzle. And so, this is the thing: I think nobody’s ever seen me in a role like this. So as I go along and I get rid of certain pieces of the puzzle, where now they can see if I’m capable of pulling off this type of role. Whereas in the past, they just haven’t had the proof there. So now they’ve got more proof. And there may be other roles out there that require more of a range, and they may be a little unsure, but with each passing role, I’m trying to give people less to consider. I want to have a full resume that says comedy to drama.

It’s really impressive already.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do all these years, is really get a piece of the puzzle and just kind of fill it in.

I’ve heard things through the grapevine about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, I’m hearing things like it’s James Gunn’s best movie.

It’s very emotional. It’s emotional, it’s dark, and it’s deep and it’s inspiring. I think this is going to be a special… Obviously, I haven’t seen it and I always feel like that every time. I thought Guardians was going to be the best, or Guardians 2 was going to be the best. And after reading the script and after being on this film and filming it, it’s just so much better.

Oh wow.

It’s just so much better, so much deeper. It’s so much more personal. And there’s such a massive inspiring message to this film. But I think it’s going to be the best Guardians. I think unlike a lot of franchises, we’re leaving with our best. We haven’t been watered down as we’ve gone along, but I think we’re leaving with our best film.

‘Knock At The Cabin’ opens in theaters on February 3rd. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.